Whittled Hooey Stick




About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

Another Instructable shows how to make a hooey stick toy with a laser cutter.* We will be moving soon and all but a very few of my tools are packed already. My adult son wants one of these made by his dad to demonstrate for the church youth group he leads in another state. I figure early hooey sticks were made from small tree branches and twigs with a simple pocket knife. (I used dowels instead of tree branches.) This Instructable is for the person who has almost no tools available.

*There is also this Instructable using a custom jig on a router table.

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Step 1: Tools and Materials

I used:


  • 3/16" wood dowel (4.7mm)
  • 1/4" wood dowel (6.4mm)
  • 5/16" wood dowel (7.9mm)
  • 1" wire brad
  • 3" finish nail


  • Vise-Grip pliers
  • Pocket knife
  • Saw (optional)
  • Sandpaper

Step 2: Mark 5/16" Dowel

I need to whittle notches in the 5/16" dowel. I began 5/8" from one end. The space between marks is 5/16". I made a line down the length of the dowel to aid in keeping the notches in line. Mark for ten notches. The second photo shows two of the notches cut. The notches should be as alike as possible, but their purpose is only to set up a vibration in the 5/16" dowel, so minor variations are not critical. I have not yet cut the 5/16" dowel to length so I can hold it down on a work surface with my fingers as far from the knife as possible to avoid cutting myself.

Step 3: Drill a Concentric Hole

The 1" wire brad will be the axle for the spinner. Drill a concentric hole in the end of the 5/16" dowel. (The brad does not appear parallel to the dowel in the photo, but most of that is due to trying to hold the dowel and take a photo at the same time.) I twisted the dowel back and forth at least a quarter turn each time. I cleaned the hole often.

Step 4: Cut to Length and Round the Ends

I left about 1 1/2" or more after the last notch for holding the hooey stick. Cut the dowel to length with a saw, or hold the knife across the dowel and roll it until what is left can easily be broken. I whittled both ends to round them and sanded them with fine sandpaper.

Step 5: Drill a Larger Hole in the 1/4" Dowel

I used a Vise-Grip pliers and a 3" finish nail to drill a hole in a 1/4" dowel. Check often to keep the hole centered between the sides of the dowel. I twisted the pliers to drill. Clean the hole and use the knife to remove burrs so the spinner will move freely on the brad axle.

Step 6: Measure and Cut

Measure from the hole to the end of the dowel. Mark an equal length on the other side of the drilled hole. Cut the dowel.

Step 7: Check for Balance

Place the spinner on the wire brad. Gently spin it and see if one end is heavier than the other. Whittle to trim for balance.

Step 8: Mount the Spinner

Insert the brad through the spinner and into the hole in the end of the 5/16" dowel. Make certain the brad is not pressed in too far.

Step 9: Make the Rubbing Stick

Cut a piece of 3/16" dowel for rubbing across the notches. Round its ends.

Videos on YouTube show how to use the Hooey Stick. After experimenting with one of these for a while, I can confirm what is in the video. That is, pressure from a finger on one side of the stick makes the propeller or spinner turn away in the opposite direction. Changing the pressure point to the other side changes the direction, usually. The video applies the pressure with the fingers moving the vibrating stick. I apply the pressure on the notched stick with the hand holding it.Wikipedia has an article on these. I had hoped for a some history on their origin, but could find only this. It suggests these have a background in Appalachia, probably in early use by Native Americans, and may have had an origin in China. (Having lived near Appalachia, I know it is not uncommon to find people there who are Scotch-Irish with at least one Cherokee ancestor in their family tree.)

Someone commented on an article about these and said they were used during World War II to synchronize the idle of engines on multi-engine bombers. One was attached to the instrument panel in the cockpit. If the engines were idling differently it set up a vibration that made the spinner piece turn.



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    8 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Man! Almost 50 years old and I STILL have never gotten these things, LOL!

    4 replies
    Phil Brpotts2

    Reply 2 years ago

    The video linked in the last step tells about a "trick" I did not know. Even at that, I have found ways to hold it so that I can usually make the spinner turn in one direction. Sometimes I can make it reverse direction by changing the angle at which I hold it and at which I hold the rubbing stick (probably not authentic terminology).

    Yonatan24Phil B

    Reply 2 years ago

    Only from this reply I think I've understood what it is. I believe Matthias Wandel has a Youtube video on onje.

    Phil BYonatan24

    Reply 2 years ago

    if you look at the last step, I linked a video that shows what it does.


    2 years ago

    Another excellent project (you're quite the professional). What you call a Hooey Stick I always called a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle. A quick web search also turned up The Hui Machine, one of several names for the device as it's described in this link to the Harvard Math Department: http://www.math.harvard.edu/~knill/pedagogy/huimachine/index.html.

    2 replies
    Phil Bemerson.john

    Reply 2 years ago

    I downloaded and read about half of the German PDF linked in the Harvard link. "Hui" would be a good German way of phonetically spelling "hooey." I do not know if you read German, but the article spent most of its time on theoretical explanations of why strumming vibrations create rotational movement and possible explanations from physics.

    Phil Bemerson.john

    Reply 2 years ago

    The Wikipedia article uses Gee Haw Whammy Diddle, but gives several other names, too. Thank you for the Harvard link.

    Over the weekend I took it for show and tell with a woodworking group. None of them seemed familiar with one.

    Thank you, again.